To the world
we may need to make ourselves
strong and wise and fearless
But to God
we must always be
His vulnerable, little child
21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.
I love the opening passage in today’s verses, that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy. Here he is at the lowest point of his story, but he is not alone. This is a common theme in the stories of the patriarchs: that they are alone in a wild or dangerous place, with no one for their companion but God.
It is often said that the travesties that befell Joseph were all part of God’s plans, and even Joseph will later tell his brethren to not be angry with themselves, because God was sending him to preserve life all along. And while this is true, I believe it is worth noting that God being present in the process is not the same as saying that God threw him into the well or God cast him into prison. Those were evil actions, and it was evil men and women who did those things, not God. What God did was to be with Joseph in those low points and miraculously turn them into something good.
In verses 22 and 23 we hear a description of Joseph coming into the full trust of the keeper of the prison and having the entire operation put into his hands. It is identical to what we heard of Joseph earlier when he came to manage the entire estate of Potiphar. This is the second of the three-part repetition on this theme, and so it would seem there was no situation so low that Joseph couldn’t flourish in it.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
Jacob had wrestled with the Lord, and he had prevailed, but that didn’t mean he came off without injury. He moved on from the fight, but with a limp. At one point or another we all have to similarly wrestle with God in our path of spiritual growth. It might be because our sense of reality is challenged by the truth, or that God is removing barnacles from our heart that don’t want to let go. And when those wrestles happen, we will certainly find ourselves feeling worn and raw from the struggle.
To be sure, the outcome of these spiritual strivings is unquestionably good. We might have gained a truer view of the world, or a nobler perspective of our own self, or had our wounds dressed and healed. But alongside of those pleasant effects, we will also be exhausted. We will walk away joyfully, even if with a slight limp.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
After Jacob received his new name, he inquired to also know the name of his heavenly messenger. The divine being rebuked that request, and a few reasons why he might have occur to me.
For one, it might have been that the name of this person did not matter. This quite possibly was only an angel sent as a representative of God, and the identity of that emissary was not important. For another, it might have been meant to tell Jacob that he still had a life of spiritual searching ahead of him. “You’ve come closer to me than ever before, Jacob, but you’re going to have to go further if you want to know my name.” Years later, when Jacob blessed all of his sons, he would pronounce a name he had evidently learned for the God that would walk among men: Shiloh.
A third possibility for what the divine wrestler meant might be “don’t you already know who I am?” To me this answer resonates the best. It directly leads into Jacob’s statement in verse 30: “I have seen God face to face.” When Abraham had met his Lord, he immediately recognized Him and bowed himself to the earth, without requiring God to confirm it. Jacob was now being brought into the same close intimacy, and from here on out he would be expected to know his maker when he saw him.
26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? 27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? 28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. 29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. 31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
In these first verses Laban sets out a strong case that Jacob has behaved in a way that is consistent with a liar and a thief. Why did you steal away so secretly? Why have you carried away my daughters as if they were captives? Certainly, Jacob’s behavior is that of one who is trying to hide something.
But people do not hide only because they are guilty of some crime. They hide because of fear. In some cases, that might be a fear of their guilt being exposed, but in other cases it is only a fear of the other person harming them. And as it turns out, that is exactly Jacob’s situation. He comes clean with exactly what his fear was: that if he was forthright about his intentions, Laban would wrest his household from him by force.
Fortunately, God had intervened to calm this volatile situation. The expression God said to Laban, repeated now in verse 29, is commonly translated as “from good to bad,” and it is a Hebrew expression that means to not try to turn or prevent another. Thus, Jacob was emboldened to be forthright by the knowledge that God had commanded Laban to not do the very thing that Jacob had been so afraid of.
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled. 23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead. 24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. 25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
We were told that when Jacob was looking for more independence he moved his family three days’ journey away from Laban, and given that Laban heard about the family’s departure on the third day, it seems likely that there was some servant or neighbor who saw what Jacob had done and immediately set off to tell Laban about it.
But even with a three-day head-start, Laban and his men were able to catch up to them after only a week. No doubt he was aided by the fact that he knew exactly where Jacob would be headed, and also that Jacob was slowed down by all the cattle and children. Fortunately, God intervened, warning Laban upon his arrival that Jacob was under His protection.
As I read all this, I saw a pattern that will reappear many years later when the Israelites flee from Pharaoh and are pursued by his armies. They too will be slowed by their young, and they will also rely upon an intervention from God. Surely Jacob and the Israelites would have preferred that God had caused their pursuers to never come upon them, that He had kept trouble as far away as possible, but He didn’t. In each case He protected His flock but did it in His own way.
Often, we wish that God wouldn’t let trouble overtake us either, but we can take comfort from stories like these, which show that when God commands a retreat, He will guard the rear, no matter how near the danger looms.
10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. 11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. 12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. 13 I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
I mentioned earlier how I used to think Jacob had made the cattle be born striped and speckled by having them look at striped and speckled sticks, but that this is not what the biblical record actually states, and today’s verses further reaffirm that.
Here it is made abundantly clear that the increase of striped and speckled goats was the result of divine intervention. God had seen the unfair things that Laban was doing, and He had curtailed them by taking Laban’s wealth and giving it to Jacob anyway.
Which is a wonderfully encouraging thought. The unjust and the dishonest may seem to prevail for a time, but none of it goes unnoticed by God, and in time He will redistribute everything according to His own purposes. If in my life I am never wealthy, it will not be because cheaters took what God had intended for me to have. So long as I surrender myself to His will, then I can be comfortably sure I am receiving exactly the wealth or poverty that He knows is right for me.
4 And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock, 5 And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. 6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. 7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. 8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked. 9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.
God had commanded Jacob to leave Laban and return to his former home. But while it appears Jacob was agreeable to that he also seems concerned for how his wives will take the news. They had lived their whole lives in this place, and he was about to ask them to give it all up.
Jacob began by testifying that they were cared for by God all this while, and not Laban. Which I imagine was meant to be a comfort to the women since God would still watch out for them, even when they were outside of their father’s protection.
And I very much appreciate this insight into how Jacob’s relationship with God has evolved. He had originally come to this land seeking mortal refuge, hoping that his uncle would provide for him in the place of his father. What he had instead found was that his uncle was untrustworthy, and repeatedly tried to cheat him, but God intervened in Jacob’s behalf. And through this God had won Jacob’s trust. Out on the fields God had assured Jacob that He would care for him, and now Jacob had seen the truth of it. Thus, Jacob took his sense of dependence from mankind and put it in the divine. And if the divine told him that it was time to leave, then he would trust that that was the right thing to do.
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. 10 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad. 12 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
Leah bore children, Rachel couldn’t so she had Bilhah bear children, and now Leah has her maid Ziplah bearing children, too. As I mentioned before, Rachel had to adapt to the unknown, and now we have Leah changing tactics, too.
And as for Jacob, all he had sought was one wife but now he had four! No doubt his life was a world away from anything he expected it would be while he was still living in his father’s household.
And what stands out to me out of all this is the futility of human plans. It frankly doesn’t matter what any of us think is going to happen in our lives, what will occur is only what God has already laid out for us. Even those who deny God’s purposes for themselves end up playing into His larger plan anyway.
It’s a hard thing to fully give up the reins to God, in fact that’s something I realize I still struggle with to this day. But if He’s the one calling the shots anyway, then life will feel a whole lot smoother as soon as I give up the illusion of control and just go with God’s flow.